I'm Trying Oil Pulling Long After Everyone Else Has Given It Up

Anyone can try something when it's a fad, but it takes a special level of commitment to try something long after the trend is over.
Publish date:
March 2, 2015
toxins, grossness, oil pulling

There are roughly one million outmoded, trendy things we as a people have done to ourselves in the hopes of becoming so beautiful that we make strangers spontaneously orgasm on the street. For the most part, they are hooey.

For example, my grandmother used to make my mom wash her hair in water they collected from their deck awning because it was “purer.” It was also rife with bird feces and probably at least one dead beetle. Still, there are always these debunked, disproved trends that some people swear by. I am going to try some of them, and see if they actually work.

Anyone can try something when it's a fad, but it takes a special level of commitment to try these ideas long after every other rational person has given them up as useless. You can trust me because I don’t believe in anything unless I see it for myself, which makes my relationship with God and the people I date pretty challenging. First up: OIL PULLING!

A cursory Interneting was unsatisfactory in giving me answers vis-a-vis the true efficacy of this passing trend. A little history: This ancient Ayurvedic tradition (for those of you who do not haunt Pinterest during the wee hours of the morning for sport) involves swishing oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes at the start of your day in an effort to remove toxins that have built up in your body. Also it will apparently cure anything and everything from depression, to acne, to bad breath, to indigestion, to a lingering fear of the eyes of lobsters (I made up the last one).

People on the Internet FREAK OUT about how great it is for tooth-whitening. This I shrugged off because I am of British descent and that whole white-teeth ship has sailed. THEN I saw a claim that swayed me: Oil pulling can cure sore throats. Baloney? Probably. I texted a very smart person I know who was all, “This will make your teeth worse.” I was all, “Yes, yes, you are right,” and then I decided to do it anyway.

Because about a month ago, The Perfect Storm hit my mouth. That’s right, my mouth turned into a deep-sea fishing vessel upon which a doomed George Clooney was idly passing the hours until his certain demise (also featuring Mark Wahlberg). I had a terrible toothache AND a sore throat that I couldn’t shake. Because we exist in a country where health care is now (relatively speaking) more accessible than ever before, I had the option of going to both the dentist and the doctor. But, after leaving my dental appointment with an invoice hefty enough to give serious consideration to the merits of selling my organs, I decided to go the all-natural route when it came to my throat.

This was probably smarter, anyway. At least that's what I told myself. Like many kids reared in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents and pediatrician were waaaaay too antibiotic happy. Let the record show: ANTIBIOTICS ARE SO IMPORTANT. YOU KNOW, LIKE HOW VACCINES ARE IMPORTANT. But I don’t think antibiotics should be taken when your kid, you know, sighs at a louder-than-normal volume or has a particularly vivid chartreuse-colored snot creeping down his or her philtrum. Because those are both normal kid things that happen.

So here I am at 31 toughing it out, and it is miserable. I’m chugging tea, I’m gnawing on neem leaves, I’m ordering bucket loads of goldenseal, a purchase which has permanently skewed my Amazon algorithm, making me look like a stoner who has a very important job interview coming up. While these remedies all provided temporary comfort, the only true cure was going to be time. You know, UNLESS I WENT AND GOT THE TREATMENT I CLEARLY NEEDED FOR WHAT WAS, NOW I REALIZE, A SEVERE STREP THROAT. SEVERE.

One morning, during the worst of it, I stood hunched over my sink considering my pallid, homely morning-time visage. My throat was aflame. The demons suckling at my tooth pausing to cackle. I was at the end of my proverbial rope-type apparatus. If ever there was a time to oil pull for health and beauty, this was it.

I decided to try this noise out for a month and see what, if any, benefits came my way. If I happened to, over the span of three weeks, get pearly whites, a perfectly regulated gut, and skin worthy of theft for human-coat-making projects? Awesome. If it didn’t, I would have spent a lot of time with shit in my mouth for no reason (which, coincidentally, is also what she said).

Day one, I began by spooning the required tablespoon of coconut oil into my mouth and immediately (ACCIDENTALLY) swallowed it. Because, I am the best.

Thus far, the experiment had proven itself to be pretty terrible, though I must admit, my sore throat did disappear. Was it gone because it has now been several weeks since I first contracted it? Or was it gone because I decided to start gargling overpriced oils? Only the God I don’t believe in totally and basic science knows for sure.

The biggest problem with oil pulling that I’d read about so far was to swish an oil (of your choosing— I’m going with coconut because I live in Brooklyn) in your mouth for 20 minutes without throwing up. Many intrepid beauty bloggers gagged at the mere thought of all that fat approaching their respective gullets.

My main concern is that I would immediately swallow it because I am a gluttonous animal who cannot be tamed. Genitals and tongues aside, if something is in my mouth, it is because I am eating it.

I was both right and wrong. I had no problem getting the recommended tablespoon of the stuff into my mouth, but since the coconut oil was in a semi (mostly) solid state in its jar, and I was vigorously sending messages to my throat begging it not to swallow, my mouth felt ... confused as to its plan of action. I chomped around aimlessly until everything was liquidy and I felt, you know, fine. Weird, but fine. Mainly, I wondered, what I should do to pass the time while I swished, so I put on an old episode of Archer and read up on what other people have reported back on the joys of oil pulling.

“If you find that your jaw or mouth is tired after oil pulling, you are probably pulling too rigorously,” said one helpful writer. “At least, that’s what I’ve found! Try relaxing a little, lol!”

I rolled my eyes. People are idiots, I thought, as a stream of tropical-smelling ooze trickled down the corner of my mouth and onto my confused cat’s head.

Maybe I’m a little orally fixated, but I didn’t mind the process. Once I became fairly confident that I wasn’t going to re-eat my supposed toxins accidentally, the whole deal was kind of fun. I had visions of me going through my day with my breath transformed from its normal mouth-smell into something else. Kissing the dude I kiss, he’d pull away only to say, “Whoa. Your mouth tastes all soft and sweet, like a Sandals resort bathroom air-freshening canister.” This arousing sentiment uttered, we’d make out as we had never made out before.

But, once I spat the oil out (in the trash, thank you very much — I learned my lesson with drains and oils many moons ago, thank you thick-cut bacon and my own idiocy) I kind of went to town, brushing my teeth and rinsing out my mouth, you know, BECAUSE IT TASTED AND FELT LIKE IT WAS COATED WITH OIL. My mouth did feel extra clean — probably because it was. Because I’d just spent so much time trying to get the oil out? Or maybe it was oil-pulling fairies. Who’s to say, really?

I wasn't always so successful. When my roommate was home and awake when I was due to pull, I did not want to do it around her. I knew exactly what her face would do if I said, “Hey listen, I’m going to be gargling oil for like, the better part of half an hour to write about it? So like, I won’t be able to talk?” And, frankly, the sight of it was something I could live without.

So I ate breakfast, and scuttled out the door to my nannying gig. Once I had a seven-month-old on my hip whose favorite hobbies include sucking on my chin and eating his own feet, I felt like I was in a place free from judgment. I began the pulling and at first, everything was fine. Great, in fact! My young charge was delighted by the sounds of me swishing oil and I was mentally guffawing at the notion of starting a fake mommy blog called Pullin’ on The Go: My Paleo LifeSTYLE.

This is when the post-nasal drip began. Now, I may not have gagged at a mouthful of oil, but the snot leaking down the back of my throat WHILE I had a mouthful of oil was almost more than I could properly handle. I mildly panicked — do I swallow the snot and get a little oil in there too? Do I spit the whole mess out? Or do I force the snot into my mouth and blend the mucus in with the other fluids, like a horrible, horrible living Vitamix? I opted for the grossest option.

No amount of tooth-whitening, no amount of alleged health benefits is worth gargling your own snot for 20 minutes. In the end, I continued oil pulling and got a gum infection. So that was awesome. That said, one of my dude friends did say my teeth looked really white apropos of nothing. I was wearing red lipstick though, and dudes are easily fooled by such tricks.

I kept it up for another week because I take journalism seriously. My teeth stayed the same shade of aged piano-key yellow and I gained three pounds. Verdict: Set oil pulling on fire.